Formula One’s New Era: First Impressions

Credit: Merced Sun Star

A new era for Formula One dawned in Melbourne last weekend, as 2017’s new faster, meaner cars finally took to the track in anger. The new regulations were designed to narrow the gap between cars and make for closer racing while also improving lap times by almost five seconds. So what were the first impressions from F1’s new era?

Competition at the front:

After Mercedes’ dominance over the past few years, the hope was that the new rule changes would allow Ferrari and Red Bull to close the gap. It appears that the Scuderia have succeeded as Sebastian Vettel stormed to victory in the season-opener. Ferrari seemed to have more pace on race day, even though Lewis Hamilton had taken pole for Mercedes.

The Ferrari seems easier to drive and easier on its tyres, as Vettel applied pressure early on then leapfrogged Hamilton with an over-cut on the first stint. However, Hamilton’s pace was close to Vettel’s on the soft tyre, but he was held up by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after pitting first, which allowed Vettel to leap ahead. Ferrari and Mercedes should be neck and neck this season, and strategy will play a key role in deciding the World Championship.

Overtaking issues persist:

Despite the goal of the new regulations, many drivers had concerns about overtaking being more difficult due to cars that are more dependant on aerodynamics. And from Sunday’s race in Melbourne, their fears seem to have been proven right. Overtaking was rare in Australia unless DRS was involved.

Hamilton lost the lead due to being unable to overtake Verstappen at the start of his second stint. New Mercedes drive Valtteri Bottas had trouble following team-mate Hamilton in the latter stages, while Verstappen struggled to get close enough to overtake Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in the closing laps despite being on faster tyres. Drivers claim that the dirty air from the car in front negatively affects downforce when following within two seconds, which means overtaking could still be an issue this year.

Relaxed rules:

Under new owners Liberty Media, rules seem to have been relaxed on and off the track. Teams are now encouraged to use social media more frequently, increasing interaction with the fans. On the track, penalties for racing incidents seem to have been relaxed; allowing drivers to race more freely, with penalties only being handed down if an incident can be wholly blamed on one driver. There weren’t many incidents in Melbourne, so we’ll see if this relaxing of the rules remains in effect throughout the season.

Harder tyres, fewer pit stops:

Pirelli were asked to create harder tyres for this season to reduce the issue of tyre degradation. Many teams predicted a one-stop strategy in Melbourne, which is what we saw for the most part. However, tyre degradation was still an issue for some cars, especially Hamilton. Melbourne isn’t a particularly hard circuit on tyres, nor were the conditions particularly hot. Only time will tell how the problem will affect the remaining races, especially at the hotter tracks in the calendar.